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Biotech, Microsoft Partner on Immune System Diagnostics

Immuno-sequencing infographic

Click on image for full-size display (Adaptive Biotechnologies, Microsoft Corp.)

4 January 2018. A company that analyzes immune system genomics is collaborating with Microsoft Corporation to develop early-stage disease diagnostics. The agreement calls for Microsoft to make a financial investment in Adaptive Biotechnologies, based in Seattle, but further financial details of the collaboration were not disclosed.

Adaptive Biotechnologies applies genomic sequencing to immune system cells, generating profiles of receptors on those cells for diagnostics and therapies for diseases related to the immune system, as well as cancer. The company is a spin-off enterprise from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, founded in 2009. Its main technology sequences genes from receptors on T- and B-cells, white blood cells in the immune system, for diagnostics and therapies.

The collaboration aims to combine Adaptive Biotechnologies’ immune-system sequencing capabilities with Microsoft’s large-scale machine learning and cloud computing to create diagnostics for individual patients from a simple blood test. The partnership is expected to produce a map connecting T-cell receptors and antigens, proteins that emit signals for a particular disease, eventually leading to a universal diagnostic test. Sequencing the genetics in trillions of T-cell receptors and matching them to the millions of antigens will require large databases and sophisticated analytics, powered in part by machine learning.

“Some conditions like cancer or autoimmune disorders can be difficult to diagnose,” says Adaptive’s CEO Chad Robins in a company statement, “but this universal map of the immune system will enable earlier and more accurate diagnosis of disease, potentially helping physicians to connect the dots to understand the relationship between disease states and eventually lead to a better understanding of overall human health.”

In a company blog post, Peter Lee, Microsoft’s vice-president for artificial intelligence and research, calls the project an “X-ray of the immune system,” which would “open new doors to predictive medicine, as a person’s immunological history is believed to shape their response to new pathogens and treatments in ways that are currently impossible to explore. The impact on human health of such a universal blood test that reads a person’s exposure and response to disease would be, in a word, transformational.”

The collaboration is part of Microsoft’s Healthcare Next initiative, begun last year to apply cloud computing and artificial intelligence to health care. The companies say it’s the first partnership between technology and genomics companies to map the genetics of the immune system.

Robins and Lee plan to tell more about their partnership on 10 January at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, an invitation-only meeting in San Francisco.

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